Vau da Sarapalha
João Guimãraes Rosa
This simple hour-long piece of physical theatre exemplifies the reason for having an International season, BITE:03 at the Barbican.
It is an import from a company called Grupo Piollin based on the North-East coast of Brazil. This is the only major theatre in London that would be likely to bring a put on a show of this type. Otherwise the only likely outlet would have been one of the larger venues at the Edinburgh Fringe.
This is a fascinating discovery, the like of which you will not have seen before. It tells a folk-tale of lost love in a beach-side shanty town with few words, translated from the Portuguese with surtitles but much inventive staging. The warning outside the auditorium that the production contains scenes involving fire seems innocent enough. It isn't.
Two mad tick-ridden cousins, played by Everaldo Pontes and Nanego Lira, are so destitute that they appear to live on a tree stump. One, Cousin Ribeiro has lost his wife, Luiza, to a visiting cowboy. He is now suffering from malaria that seems to be terminal. It also explains the hallucinatory quality of his experiences. His cousin had loved Luiza too, albeit silently, and his revelation of this fact is almost too much for the malaria-suffering Cousin Ribeiro.
This is the structure on which the director/adapter, Luiz Carlos Vasconcelos hangs his wonderfully realised vision. Arguably, the two stars of the show have the smallest parts. Servílio Holanda plays The Dog, Jiló, to perfection. His wrigglings and snufflings while asleep give way to bouncing around and barking, drinking and defecating while awake.
There is also in the background Escurinho as The Demon. While we rarely see him, his main talent is as a Foley Artist. These are the people who produce sound effects from home-made implements. The soundscape, which is most unusual and really worthwhile, brings its audience to Brazil. The actors all create bird and animal sounds seemingly from thin air.
This is complemented assisted by the dialogue and imagery, though the latter has its moments especially when The Demon finally makes an appearance.
And then there's the fire. This is spectacular, first when Soia Lira as The Old Woman Ceição wheels her portable foundry across the stage pumping bellows and firing sparks around like a dozen sparklers. The final amazing image is of the two eloping lovers leaving the village by boat across a sea of fire. This is very beautiful and will live long in the memory.
Reviewer: Philip Fisher